Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Classic Fall Color
Capturing the best of autumn takes a combination of skill, preparation, timing and equipment
Telephotos are a great friend to have outdoors, and the newer zoom telephotos can add a couple of different ingredients to your photo story or trip. Using a longer-than-normal telephoto, like a 300mm or 400mm lens, can help isolate parts of a colorful forest into interesting shapes and colors, as the flattening effect of the telephoto combines all the colors. Again, use a good, sturdy tripod, a cable release, and if your lens isn’t stabilized, raise the mirror before the shutter goes off for blur-free photographs.
Zoom telephotos offer the convenience of staying in one place while you play with the forms, patterns and colors in front of you. However, don’t let this lead to complacency; make sure you move around after a few shots. You can create an interesting effect by using a slow shutter speed (from 1⁄10 to a full second) and zooming as the exposure is being made. This will result in colorful streaks on the final image that radiate from the center outward.
Use Lighting To Boost Color
With today’s TTL features, accessory flash is easy and accurate to use. I like to cut back the power to add just a bit of fill without overpowering the scene. I find that if I dial back about a 2⁄3-stop on the flash, the subject gains a feeling of luminance without being overpowering. A lightweight LED panel like the Litepanels Micro is also incredibly useful because you can see the effect as you shoot. Another solution is to carry a handheld reflector that folds to a compact size to fit easily into your camera bag.
Matrix metering will average the full scene, center-weighted is good when you don’t want the sky to influence the exposure, and spot metering is best when there’s a critical element in the frame that needs to be exposed perfectly. Spot also is perfect for comparing specific values in a scene and applying the Zone System to your shot.
Files And File Sizes
For the most part, I find that a large JPEG file is great for 99% of my shooting requirements. If I want to get into fine-tuning, however, shooting in RAW is a necessity. Therefore, I shoot in RAW + JPEG mode to keep all of my options open. I stay away from TIFFs simply because the files are large and they don’t give me the same options as RAW files. Finally, to assure perfect photos in the field, always use your histogram, and if your camera has the option, check out the color histogram to see if one color, like red, is being clipped. Perfect fall photos are the result of a balanced curve with no clipping at the edges.
Use A Tripod!
What it boils down to is to purchase the best tripod you can afford. Stay away from unsteady models and long center columns that make for an unsteady support in the wind. There are plenty of excellent models that are lightweight and sturdy made from aluminum or carbon fiber. You even can go for wood if you like; just make sure it’s capable of supporting your camera and a heavy lens. Along with the tripod, include a ballhead with a quick-release head that allows precise adjustments with one knob as opposed to three on the more common tripods.
When I’m photographing a colorful fall scene, I like to mount the camera last, not first. I move around looking through the viewfinder, often changing lenses to find the right composition. Then I pull out the tripod and get everything locked down. Attaching the camera first just plants the initial idea into your head that this is the only place to be. Keeping an open mind before settling down is important. Lots of professionals also will tell you to take the camera back off the tripod after getting a shot and keep looking. A great fall color scene seldom has only one photo opportunity.
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